GUWAHATI, Oct 24 - A six-year study with emphasis on terrestrial vertebrates done in the capital city of Guwahati during 2011-16 found the presence of a total of 332 species of terrestrial vertebrates � a significant count on an urban landscape.
Birds were found to be the most diverse group accounting for 214 species, followed by reptiles (57 species), mammals (36 species) and amphibians (25 species). The findings included one critically endangered species (Baer�s pochard), two endangered species (greater adjutant stork, Steppe eagle), two vulnerable species (common pochard, lesser adjutant), 14 near threatened and the rest least concern species. Three species are listed in Schedule I, one species in Schedule V, and the rest are in the Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
�A total of 26 species of amphibians representing seven families were encountered. Among these, a single species is vulnerable, four species are data deficient and 21 species are least concern (as per IUCN Red List of Threatened Species-2017). Of these, 11 species are included in Schedule IV of Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the rest are non-scheduled species,� Jayaditya Purkayastha of Help Earth who did the survey, told The Assam Tribune.
The survey identified 53 species of reptiles representing 11 families, including the black soft-shell turtle which is extinct in the wild, besides two endangered species and five vulnerable species. Thirty-one species were not evaluated and 14 species fell in the least concern category. Of these, seven species are under Schedule I, three are under Schedule II, 25 are under Schedule IV of Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the rest are non-scheduled animals.
Mammals also revealed a healthy diversity as represented by 36 species in 21 families including one critically endangered species (Chinese pangolin), six endangered species (Gee�s golden langur, Bengal slow loris, Asiatic elephant, hog deer, dhole, and Ganges river dolphin), six vulnerable species (capped langur, smooth-coated otter, sambar, leopard, gaur, and western hoolock gibbon), and the remaining 22 least concern species.
Thirty-six species are scheduled under Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (Schedule I: ten species, Schedule II: 14 species, Schedule II: four species, Schedule IV: a single species, Schedule V: five species and two non-scheduled species.
Significantly, the conservation status of about 60 per cent of the city�s reptilian fauna is yet to be evaluated, creating conservation concerns. Of all the turtles mentioned here, most of these are found in the ponds of the Ugratara and Kamakhya temples. �Though protected by law, unorganised turtle trade for flesh and as pet still continues within the city. There also exists illegal trade for local bird species such as parakeets which are sometimes sold under the veil of exotic bird trade,� Purkayastha said.
Pointing out that haphazard urbanisation and anthropogenic pressures are putting the city�s biodiversity under stress, he said that cutting of hills, illegal felling of trees and degradation of wetlands are having an adverse effect on the biodiversity. �The hills of the city � mostly reserved forest lands � are used for illegal settlements. Within the city�s municipal area, there are 65,894 households of which 10,208 are within reserved forests. A large part of Guwahati has been developed by filling up wetlands and the process of filling and degradation of wetlands still continues. Owing to this, Guwahati is seeing a rise of the artificial flood in the low-lying city centres,� he added.
Conservationists believe that an assessment of the city�s biodiversity becomes important for the formulation of long-term conservation policies. Guwahati has already lost a big chunk of its biodiversity, but quantification of the same is not possible for want of data on its biodiversity from the past to compare with the present status of biodiversity.
According to the study, the major threats to the city�s terrestrial vertebrates include habitat destruction and alteration, degradation and filling up of wetlands, and lack of priority for urban biodiversity conservation.